Title

What's in a Name? The Nature of the Individual in Refugee Studies

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

12-1-2006

Department

Anthropology and Sociology

Abstract

The category of refugee has been problematic for both practitioners and social scientists because it is difficult to define an objective category that satisfactorily brings the real world, ethics, and theory into harmony. In recent years many critiques have been made of the assumptions built into the legal refugee framework and efforts have been made to refine the concept from multiple disciplinary perspectives. This paper examines several underlying assumptions of these discussions, including the category of forced migration, through a discussion of the example of Salvadorans in the United States in the 1980s. One assumption has been noted but insufficiently theorized: the centrality of the individual. The person assumed by both the refugee and human rights regimes of the United Nations is a culturally-specific construct defining the relationship between the individual and society in a way that precludes an adequate understanding of refugees.

Publication Title

Journal of Refugee Studies

Volume

19

Issue

4

First Page

471

Last Page

487

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